If you’re just maintaining an edge, you’ll only need to perform a few x strokes (35 or so) on a 12k or higher stone. Follow this by stropping on fine leather, and depending on your sharpness preference, adding Chromium oxide prior to finish stropping. Ignore most of the information that references “bevel set” since I’ve done this stage for you. You’re just removing a microscopic amount of steel from the edge, polishing it true, and stropping.
First, you need to flatten your stone when it’s fresh from the factory, making sure you’ve removed the top 1/64th” or so of stone material to reach the true grits (the top is a bit rough on Nortons especially). Make sure your stone is perfectly flat. Use the DMT or the sandpaper I described above for this.
Next, clean your SR in soap/warm water. Dry it, and put a piece of electrical tape along the spine and fold it over (like a book binding) if you’d like to preserve the spine and avoid wear.
I like to clear the edge of possible errand burs before I hone, so I drag the shaving edge against my thumbnail or a glass bottle for a bevel set only. If you’re on a stone beyond 8K, I would not recommend this to starting honers – you can spoil the edge, requiring jumping down to a lower grit.
Burs can cause issues, and may make for a rough feeling edge. I’ve found that this is a good way to remove them.
It may be unnecessary for some/most blades, but it’s part of my bevel setting routine throughout the various stone progressions, and by doing this, I’ve notice good things and increased consistency when I hone.
To hone. You’re going to get your razor sharp in these stages:
- Set the bevel (establish the sharp edge shape)
- Polish the bevel (polish the shape you created earlier)
- True the bevel (strop the bevel to make sure the edge is very uniform)
Setting the bevel:
While all steps are important, this step is foundational. Place your razor on your bevel setting stone, keeping the razor spine and edge completely flat on the surface together. Do tiny circle strokes (circular motion down the hone) so you do about 30-40 tiny circles as you move own the bottom hone. Repeat on the other side of the razor, moving up the hone in the opposite direction (and counter-wise circle direction). Now do 15 x strokes . This is a set. Feel free to use a bit of pressure at this stage, as you’re going to be removing more material here, than any other stage.
Repeat doing these sets until you can shave hair on your arm or leg by very slowly grazing over the tops of the hair – it should catch and cut with a bit of a tug.
It will take many many of these sets with a 4k stone, and less with a 1K. With an old blade from sheffield, you’ll be doing this for over an hour, and sometimes a thin hollow grind German blade will take just as long.
Once you can shave hair on your arm or leg all along the bevel (toe to heel) with uniform sharpness and cutting, you may be set. Do another 10 or so x-strokes, very lightly, very perfectly as a final sharpening for your bevel. See if this helps your edge.
Once you’re happy with your bevel, strop it and shave. If it’s painful, it’s likely your bevel isn’t set. If it’s decent, you’re ready to move on.
Polishing the bevel
Now move up to polishing. On the 4K and do 35 light x strokes. Go to the 8K and do 35 light x-strokes. Repeat this back and forth going 4K 30, 8K 30. Now keep this up, decreasing the stroke number by 5. When you’re at 10 strokes, just do 25 on the 8K.
Always check for sharpness along the edge by trimming a bit of arm hair. You’ll learn a lot from an edge by doing this.
Following the grits up in this fashion should give you a fairly polished bevel. It’s best to go higher than 8K with a high grit chinese hone from a woodworking store, or a naninwa 12k, but 8K will do for now.
Truing the edge:
Strop about 30 passes on your chromium oxide, clean the blade, and the perform 200 passes on leather – all spine leading, done very lightly.
After all this, you should have a great edge. Give it a test shave and compare it to your pro honed blade.
While honing, you’ll likely get frustrated, but keep at it! If you’re getting aggressive with the razor, just give it a break, and come back later. If the shave is no good, post back here and we’ll help you diagnose.
I tried to present information that’s very searchable. StraightRazorPlace.com and Badgerandblade.com, reddit’s Wicked edge and Wet Shavers (among others I need to stop by and say hello on!) have archived many of the ideas that I just presented. I highly recommend researching on your own and reaching a personal conclusion. What follows are my personal opinions.
This equipment I suggest is not necessarily the best, nor is it bad at all. It’s great way to get started and find out what you like in a stone/routine. Some ideas to consider if you upgrade your set:
- Try a natural stone for a finisher. I use a vintage Thuringian hone called an Barber’s Delight Escher .
- Upgrade your progression by adding various in-between grits. I really like going from a Chosera 1K, to Shapton Pro (not glass version) 2K, 5K, 8K, 15K, then finish.
- Try finishing a blade with a pasted strop, and try without. Some love one over the other.
The back and forth honing I recommend is a honing series called pyramid honing, where you go between two different grit hones to ensure you don’t form a wire edge or a bur. I like to recommend this for folks getting into honing since this is one of the most documented methods for get a razor to shave ready from a bevel set. A quick google search on pyramid honing will give you plenty of reading. I don’t hone this way any more.
I highly recommend honing your razor as sharp as possible on one stone, strop as I’ve outlined, and give it a shave. For example, sharpen as much as you can at the 4K stage, and strop it 200 times. If it shaves ok, you’re on the right track. If not, you’ve got more work to do at that level of stone. You’ll be amazed that such a low grit can shave so well. If it’s painful to shave after your lowest stone…. you’re not done, and moving up the stones will not benefit your edge. Repeating this process of shaving up all the stone grits (4K, 8K, 12K) will help you get a feel for what honing at the different levels provide. Shaving off my 1K bevel provided me the biggest leap in edge quality while learning.
Don’t limit your techniques. Once you can confidently bring a restored razor to shave with consistency, I’d recommend playing around and experimenting. Though this, I’ve developed some strokes that are critical to my routine, and used effectively with every blade I sharpen.
Be sure that you’re honing the shaving edge from heel to tip. Straight razors come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some being a perfect fit on a flat surface, others need a bit of creativity on the stroke… regardless, watch your sharpness develop along the entire edge, as it’s not uniform. Areas will require more time than others, and don’t be afraid to briefly hone one area for a bit to remove material and get it in line with the rest of the blade (heels can be a big pain).
Above all, experience is key. You’ll never know how to do it right until you fail. And you’ll never fail until you’ve tried. We’re just here to give you a few tips to make the road less bumpy.